Veterans remember forgotten Korean War

AUSTINTOWN – Kathy Bowman walked up slowly to the Korean War Veterans Memorial on Sunday with a red rose in her hand.

She laid it down carefully with the other roses honoring the 122 people from Columbiana, Mahoning and Trumbull counties who died in the conflict.

Bowman was honoring her uncle, William M. Baker, who died in May 1953, shortly after arriving in Korea. She has participated in the annual ceremony nearly every year since it began.

“I was coming here with my sister, until she passed,” Bowman said. “I have to do this. It is to honor what my uncle did in Korea and, later, what my brother did in Vietnam.”

Since its formation in 1996, the Korean War Veterans Association of Mahoning Valley Chapter 137 has held the Laying of the Roses ceremony at Austintown Veterans Park.

July 27 marks the 60th anniversary of the Korean War Armistice, which essentially ended hostilities in the southeast Asian nation.

More than 100 people – mostly military veterans and their families – gathered to put faces to the names of those who died in Korea.

Eva DeCembly and her daughter, Debra, both of Youngstown, attended the ceremony for the first time on Sunday afternoon.

“We came here to recognize my brother, Charles Bratton, who was drafted right out of high school,” Eva DeCembly said. “He died when he was 20 years old, a year after he graduated from high school.

DeCembly said she is glad such ceremonies are held.

“Those who did not come back deserve to be remembered for what the sacrificed for their country, their communities and their families,” she said.

Bob Brothers, a Niles resident and a U.S. Army veteran, said there is very little written about the Korean War.

“We have to tell our children and know they will pass this information on to the next generation,” Brothers said. “The war in Korea stopped the spread of communism until Cuba, in 1961, when the U.S. faced Russia head-on at the risk of a nuclear war.”

Brothers emphasized that people should honor both veterans and active duty service members.

“Thank them for their service because you may not get another opportunity,” he said.

Guest speaker at the event and former Navy Seabee, Harry Meshel said the United States’ involvement in the war helped stop the spread of communism throughout Asia.

He said that knowing our history hopefully will allow the nation not to repeat the mistakes of the past.

“To remember the dead, we should take care of the living,” said Meshel, who also is a former state senator. “The message, unfortunately, is not always followed. … We should not be hesitating in treating veterans coming home from the Middle East.”

Richard Koker, who translated the ceremony into sign language, emphasized that the U.S. involvement in Korea 60 years ago continues to reverberate.

“North Korea says they would not talk about unification until the U.S. pulls out,” Koker said. “I don’t know what should be done. It depends on how the South Korean people feel.”